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EXCLUSIVE: MILegalize’s Jamie Lowell speaks as more than 60 Michigan cities opt out of the marijuana industry

By Meg Ellis
Jan 04, 2019

Nearly one month after the legalization of recreational marijuana in Michigan, more than 60 cities are banning, or plan to ban marijuana businesses.

The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act went into effect on December 6, allowing for the legal recreational use of marijuana and for retail marijuana stores and related businesses to sell cannabis to patrons over the age of 21.

A city by city ban is seen as premature, as officials with the Michigan Bureau of Marijuana Regulation have yet to write the rules and regulations surrounding business applications and licensing. In accordance with the state Marihuana Act, the Bureau must deliver these rules by December 2019.

Who’s opting out?

While there is no official list of the townships banning marijuana lists, local news outlets are reporting as many as 80 municipalities and as few as 60 are planning business bans.

The Detroit Metro Times posted an unofficial list of towns that have reported their decision to opt out of allowing recreational marijuana sales to the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. In the metro Detroit area, this includes such municipalities as Grosse Pointe, Plymouth, and Northville.

“While communities are not required to let us know, we have requested that they do so just to make things a little easier for everyone involved,” the LARA Communications Director David Harns told Metro Times.

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There are townships that opted out but failed to notify the Department. Additionally, some communities decided to temporarily opt-out while they wait for the final rules and regulations regarding marijuana sales to settle.

Officials from Monroe, one of the first cities to opt out of the marijuana program, claim that they are waiting for further information regarding the legislation before making any decisions regarding cannabis’s future in their city.

“Given the potential this legislation has to fundamentally alter the community, city administration cannot stress enough the importance of careful analysis, as to potential impacts on land use considerations and the need for thoughtful deliberation, as the community moves forward,” Monroe City Manager Vince Pastue wrote in a memo.

“Determining what marihuana establishments will be considered; how many and where; how close to a school, a park, a church, or a residential area?” Pastue’s memo continued.

MILegalize, a Michigan ballot group that is currently transitioning to a PAC, continues to provide lobbying efforts in the hopes of educating citizens on what opting out of the state’s marijuana program means and dispel any misinformation that may be floating around.

In an exclusive interview with PotNetwork, Jamie Lowell, a Board Member of MILegalize and co-author of the MRTMA, stated that some communities “are erroneously under the impression that they have to opt out in order to avoid unwanted commercial activity from ensuing… While it is a choice for local communities to opt out, there is no functional reason to do so.

“Commercial activity cannot begin in a local community unless the local community has decided to allow the activity, how much of the activity, and where the activity will be located.”

To help provide further clarification on how city governments will be involved in the cannabis business approval process, the Michigan Cannabis Business Development held a Conference on December 2 in Lansing.

“The Director of the Bureau of Marijuana Regulations Andrew Brisbow addressed the attendees and made it clear that the state department would check with the local authorities to determine if they have approved the business locally before issuing a state license to operate,” Lowell said.

What does opting out even mean?

When a controversial issue comes up on the ballots, there will always be a voice of opposition. Participants that don’t want to participate in a specific program. What happens to those dissenting voters, or even dissenting communities, when the vote doesn’t go their way? If it’s law, it’s the law. Right?

Here is where the topsy-turvy rules of pharmaceuticals come into play. The medical marijuana industry is an “opt-in” industry where hospitals, doctors, patients, etc. have to adhere to state law when it comes to prescribing marijuana. Cities must take a vote to opt-in to the program by passing what is called an enabling ordinance. Otherwise, a business will not receive local or state approval for a business license.

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Communities wishing to ban recreational marijuana shops must officially opt out, meaning that they must pass a city ordinance or get voters to approve a ballot initiative which would codify their township’s refusal to participate in the marijuana marketplace.

If residents disagree with their city’s decision to opt out, they may also develop a ballot initiative to force the city to opt back in. This initiative would appear during the city’s next regular election.

In the coming legislative cycle, MILegalize is supporting localized grassroots efforts to allow the licensure of cannabis businesses.

“Any interested parties can lobby local decision-makers to change their mind, can support candidates in agreement with allowing cannabis businesses, and work against those in opposition to allowing cannabis business in subsequent elections.

“Interested parties can also petition locally and place the question on the local ballot in order to make the decision by the citizens directly weighing in on the issue,” Lowell said.

What does this mean for cannabis customers in Michigan?

Regardless of whether their city decides to opt out, marijuana-using Michiganders can rest assured that the recreational use of marijuana is still legal. The Marihuana Act allows adults 21 and older to use, possess, gift, and buy marijuana.

“At no time will the individual rights to grow, possess, and use [marijuana] be compromised without a change in state law no matter how the local community chooses to deal with commercial operations,” Lowell stated.

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The MRTMA also regulates how many marijuana plants may be grown for personal use and how canna-businesses will operate. This state law applies to these townships, even if they don’t allow retail stores to sell marijuana.

As for MILegalize, Lowell said that it is going to be a busy year, and not just because they’re transitioning from a ballot group to a PAC.

“As is the case with any new laws, there will be different interpretations and possible issues that will require direction and clarification that MILegalize will offer. There are still forces greedily angling for market control; there are still big money influences distorting the issues.

“MILegalize will be in the mix with other groups and organizations in support of taking a sensible approach to these issues and utilize science as opposed to phantom fears, and to circumvent the kinds of illogical decisions we have had to endure from previous legislative bodies and state leadership in Michigan,” Lowell said.

With new people in the Michigan state legislature as well as both  “a sensible Attorney General with integrity and a governor who supported Prop 1 while campaigning,” Lowell feels that this could be a good year for pot-politics in Michigan.

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